Slow West

by | May 11, 2015 | 0 comments

A Fast Paced Film that Properly Portrays the Abruptness of Nature

It’s hard to express the feeling of what the old west really was. An essential reason is because no one is alive from the time to tell us. The many cowboy films, ranging from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly to Django Unchained use the Western frontier setting for their entertainment purposes, but they never truly achieve the isolated feeling that the west probably brought. The only film that has given a proper portrayal that also makes natural sense is Robert Redford’s Jeremiah Johnson. Recently Jean Marc-Vallée’s Wild also came close to portraying the immense isolation. Now, however, we have a rival film in the form of Slow West, a film that captures the western feeling and is rich with an intriguing story and realistic character development.  

Slow West has a simple plot. A Scottish boy by the name of Payne (Kodi Smit-McPhee) travels to the United States in the 1870s in search for the girl he fell in love with, Rose (Caren Pistorius). The inexperienced Payne is soon saved from a sticky situation by the bounty hunter, Silas (Michael Fassbender), who ends up being hired by Payne to protect him through his journey through the west. Along the way our characters battle against the typical outpost owners, bandits, old friends, and nature.

The beauty of the film comes in its depiction of nature. Its sweeping Lord of the Rings-like shots over mountains and fields (funnily Slow West was also filmed in New Zealand but it depicts the US); it makes one appreciate nature like no documentary can make you feel. Also what is greatly appreciated is that the film is incredibly fast paced; it doesn’t feel slow at all. The only aspects that might make the audience stutter a bit is the incredible abruptness the story pursues. But what many audience members might fail to realize is that in the west, with little human interaction, this abruptness is very common. One trusts other human beings more quickly when facing the large and vast Mother Nature.

Slow West’s pace is its greatest achievement. It achieves incredible character development in a simple 84 minutes. The film also possesses a great air of reality, where our main characters aren’t guaranteed safety or even dignity in the whole film. The dialogue is smart, but in some points tries a bit too hard. Overall the story shows us that you can produce something great from simplicity.

The acting was very notable; Michael Fassbender is of course stellar. The actor has completely dominated every role he’s been given. He plays Silas with a cold and greedy heart, yet behind his mean face you can almost tell there is a backstory of some sort, one we will never find out about, but is present nonetheless. Kodi Smit-McPhee, on the other hand, takes on a more challenging leading role; he had previously been featured in Dawn of Planet of the Apes, but in a very secondary role. With Payne, Smit-McPhee tries to push his acting limits, and just for that I commend him; it will only be a matter of time before he finally bursts as a full-fledged actor. In terms of casting, however, there is a mistake. Smit-McPhee has an extremely boyish face, almost like a 12 year old, and this goes against his character, who shaves (but Smit-McPhee has a smooth face, legs, and arms), travels to the states on his own (could he really plan such a trip himself?), and has a half-affair with a 20-something year old (Caren Pistorius doesn’t look like she’s 12). It isn’t Smit-McPhee’s fault at all; he does it to the best of his ability. It was choosing him for the role that was the mistake.  

Technically the film was perfect, the cinematography was beautiful, the directing (first time director John Maclean) is extremely bold, and the music is fun. The music reminded me a bit of Wes Anderson, it had that Alexadre Desplat feeling of goofy and abstract. This helped the film by associating it with Wes Anderson’s style and it helped set a more auteuristic tone. However, Jed Kurzel, the composer, ends up losing a bit of creativity and the theme ends up becoming very repetitive. All in all though the music is enjoyable.

The film is a refreshing take on the old west. Its fast pace and valiant directing allow it to take a path without thinking of possible consequences. The result is one delightful artistic film.

  • OVERALL MOVIE RATING 79% 79%

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What is your favorite man vs. nature film? Let me know in the comments section.

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